A Plastic Albatross
the albatross can be both an omen of good or bad luck, as well as a metaphor for a burden to be carried as penance.
by Jessica MacIntosh – Deckhand aboard Sea Dragon.
It’s hard to believe that Sea Dragon is only less than a week away from Vancouver. Sailing through the North Pacific Gyre with the eXXpedition crew has been a fantastic experience.
It has truly been astonishing at how much plastic we have recovered from our daily surface trawls. But it hasn’t been like what you might have expected – we haven’t seen too many large pieces of debris, or come across a massive floating “garbage island”. In fact we’ve seen worse: so many pieces of tiny plastic fragments – plastic film, fibres, pellets and foam that are so abundant in our samples they are almost countless.
These tiny micro plastics are so pervasive in the marine environment – I even saw a bit of plastic film completely enmeshed in a larval sac under the microscope. This is not to say that larger pieces of debris are not out there – they are, although not quite in a floating “garbage patch” like many people imagine (what’s more likely is that debris will form in lines following the ocean currents).
While larger pieces of garbage are definitly a problem in the ocean,
it’s these tiny micro plastics that really concern me. It’s easy enough to see a fishing net in the water and blame an ignorant fisherman, or to see a shipping container and think of a poorly secured cargo ship. However, we are ALL at fault for micro plastics – every single tiny fragment of plastic came from something that belonged to someone, somewhere. There are plastic fibres on our clothes that are released into the air when we wear them and wash them, there are plastics in the products we use that are washed down the sink daily, not to mention the bits of plastic we throw away everyday from single serve utensils and coffee cups, packaging, and other household items.
eXXpedition’s slogan is “making the unseen seen” and this is exactly what this trip has been about. People are usually triggered to action through emotional photos of turtles tangled in nets, or seabirds covered in oil. While these are catastrophic situations no doubt, the more common reality is the presence of tiny bits of plastic on the surface of the water and within the water column that are harming the marine environment and the species within it.
I’ve always wanted to see an albatross at sea, and this trip we have seen almost one a day.(its considered a good omen if an albatross follows your boat!) However, knowing that albatross spend days at sea finding food for their young, and often return with a mouthful of plastic, the sight of these dramatic seabirds has been tinged with a sombre reality.
……well we shouldn’t end on a dark note! Making small changes in your personal life is easy and manageable. Take a reusable mug to the coffee shop, carry reusable utensils and grocery bags, store leftovers in resuable containers, not plastic wrap (thinking of you Ma and Pa 😉 ) and don’t be fooled by bioplastics and single serve utensils made of other “green” materials – you’ll miss the point. Also pass on the information and your plastic-free lifestyle tips to friends, your community, your workplace and your local government.
Good luck! and think of the Albatross!!
Enjoy as we bring you virtually along on this latest expedition – follow Panexplore’s Sea Dragon & the eXXpedition stories on Instagram @panexplore & @eXXpedition_, Facebook @panexplore & @eXXpeditionCIC and Twitter @panexplore & @eXXpedition.
Sea Dragon modelling eXXpediton banner and partners